KDHE issues Kansas county COVID-19 rankings to aid local leaders. How does your county compare?

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is now reporting county COVID-19 rankings. (Aug. 25, 2021)

Kansas public health officials are issuing county COVID-19 rankings intended to help local leaders stop the spread of the coronavirus in their communities.

Marci Nielsen, the governor's chief adviser for COVID-19 coordination, told The Topeka Capital-Journal that local officials should use the ranking to work together in response to the pandemic.

"You would want to take this information about your county and figure out who do I need to partner with, because ... this isn't the responsibility solely of local public health, or solely of doctors in in the community or solely of the county commissioners," Nielsen said.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced the county COVID-19 rankings in a Wednesday news release. The information is available via the KDHE's online pandemic dashboard.

"I believe that data is a powerful tool we can use to guide our response to COVID-19," KDHE Secretary Lee Norman said in a statement. "I am hopeful this report empowers action in communities and encourages sharing and implementation of best practices across Local Health Departments. Local leaders and communities are working tirelessly to keep us safe; to help them, helps all of us." 

The rankings are based on local vaccination rates, as well as weekly case rates and testing rates.

"Over the past 18 months, Kansas Counties have worked tirelessly to provide ongoing response and vital resources for county residents to keep them safe and informed on the evolving COVID-19 virus," said Bruce Chladny, executive director of the Kansas Association of Counties, in a statement. "And, the county response efforts, including vaccinations and essential messaging, continue as Kansas now experiences yet another surge from the deadly virus."

More:Kansas reports 5 new school COVID-19 clusters in the past week. None were publicly identified.

Local leaders can find themselves overwhelmed by the available data as they try to manage the pandemic.

"There are lots and lots of datasets now," Nielsen said. "Lots of information to digest, not always clearly presented, not always clear where it came from, and difficult for I think local leaders to understand where where they should be focusing their efforts."

The rankings take three clear measures that can be impacted by local action. Nielsen said the responsibility is shared among doctors, the health department, schools, city government, county government or other organizations.

Improving local vaccination rates is the most important way to manage the pandemic, Nielsen said, while reducing cases is important for limiting risk to the community. Increasing testing is an important tool, especially in schools where children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccines.

The rankings are accompanied by resources and strategies for improving the local situation.

"If we say you're struggling ... then we also need to provide resources to help," Nielsen said.

More:Kansas providers are making plans for COVID-19 booster doses. Here is what we know for now.

The KDHE, CDC and Immunize Kansas Coalition have vaccination resources. The CDC has prevention information amid the surge fueled by the delta variant, and the Kansas Association of Counties has resources for accessing support from the American Rescue Plan. The KDHE offers testing information and resources to local school districts.

"We certainly hope that leaders and and counties receive this information in the spirit in which it was intended, which is really to empower them," Nielsen said. "We know that in a state that has a decentralized public health system like Kansas, it does fall to local leaders to take responsibility for what's happening, and to work together to address them, and the state stands ready, certainly the governor stands ready to help them in any way.

"But you can't really really get started in that process until you know where you are. And and you know, as they say, the first step is sort of admitting you have an issue. If your county has an issue, then let's roll up our sleeves and work together to address it."

Nielsen acknowledged that some local officials may not be thrilled by the rankings.

"There are going to be some counties who have been working very, very hard on trying to address these issues, and feel frustration when they see that their county is not ranked well," she said. "And what I would would say back to them is use this tool, then, as a way in which to engage other folks in your community to get them to understand 'guys we need to focus in' — and use it not so much as a way to feel like you are being unfairly criticized, but as a tool to help you get your friends and your neighbors and your local leaders organized."

Nielsen said Kansas COVID-19 rankings are modeled on the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The program works to identify and close health disparities among communities.

More:Kansan who died Jan. 9, 2020, may have been first COVID-19 death in the U.S. Data shows earlier timeline.

The county rankings are being introduced at a time when the delta coronavirus variant is fueling a surge of COVID-19 across the state. Many counties and school district have debated whether to implement mask mandates as hospitals fill up.

"We recognize that people are so tired and COVID fatigue is very real," Nielsen said. "But when you look around and see health care workers and hospitals, doctors and nurses exhausted because their ICUs are filled up, it's our responsibility to take care of one another. We know the vast majority of people who are seriously ill in the hospital and even dying from COVID are people who aren't vaccinated."

Where does your county rank?

Overall rankings for each county, as of Wednesday, are listed below in alphabetical order. One is the best, and 105 is the worst.

Allen County: 76

Anderson County: 62

Atchison County: 18

Barber County: 39

Barton County: 79

Bourbon County: 101

Brown County: 1

Butler County: 76

Chase County: 67

Chautauqua County: 103

Cherokee County: 80

Cheyenne County: 66

Clark County: 24

Clay County: 16

Cloud County: 85

Coffey County: 72

Comanche County: 66

Cowley County: 58

Crawford County: 47

Decatur County: 89

Dickinson County: 26

Doniphan County: 48

Douglas County: 2

Edwards County: 51

Elk County:104

Ellis County: 47

Ellsworth County: 32

Finney County: 76

Ford County: 88

Franklin County: 9

Geary County: 6

Gove County: 22

Graham County: 20

Grant County: 58

Gray County: 42

Greeley County: 12

Greenwood County: 42

Hamilton County: 71

Harper County: 45

Harvey County: 44

Haskell County: 102

Hodgeman County: 73

Jackson County: 13

Jefferson County: 22

Jewell County: 37

Johnson County: 3

Kearny County: 25

Kingman County: 10

Kiowa County: 23

Labette County: 61

Lane County: 43

Leavenworth County: 8

Lincoln County: 56

Linn County: 98

Logan County: 81

Lyon County: 14

Marion County: 53

Marshall County: 56

McPherson County: 20

Meade County: 63

Miami County: 31

Mitchell County: 5

Montgomery County: 79

Morris County: 7

Morton County: 96

Nemaha County: 4

Neosho County: 100

Ness County: 33

Norton County: 56

Osage County: 59

Osborne County: 70

Ottawa County: 34

Pawnee County: 40

Phillips County: 77

Pottawatomie County: 95

Pratt County: 29

Rawlins County: 85

Reno County: 31

Republic County: 68

Rice County: 38

Riley County: 49

Rooks County: 36

Rush County: 52

Russell County: 99

Saline County: 36

Scott County: 66

Sedgwick County: 15

Seward County: 85

Shawnee County: 11

Sheridan County: 92

Sherman County: 90

Smith County: 51

Stafford County: 28

Stanton County: 82

Stevens County: 105

Sumner County: 93

Thomas County: 94

Trego County: 91

Wabaunsee County: 27

Wallace County: 70

Washington County: 61

Wichita County: 86

Wilson County: 88

Woodson County: 97

Wyandotte County: 17